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THE LOST WORLD (1960)

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"A body of land uplifted by volcanic eruption a hundred million years ago. Cut off from the march of time by the unscalable nature of its cliffs. The land where monsters live! George Edward Challenger’s lost world!"
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Director: Irwin Allen

Starring: Claude Rains, Michael Rennie, Jill St John, David Hedison, Fernando Lamas, Richard Haydn, Ray Stricklyn, Jay Novello

Screenplay: Charles Bennett and Irwin Allen

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Synopsis: Zoologist and anthropologist Professor George Edward Challenger (Claude Rains) returns to England from the Amazon with the claim of an astounding discovery. At the airport, Challenger clashes with reporters, knocking one of them, Edward Malone (David Hedison), to the ground. As Challenger storms off, Malone encounters Jennifer Holmes (Jill St John), whose father is executive vice-president of the Global News Service, where Malone works. Telling Malone that she, too, will be attending Challenger’s appearance at the Zoological Institute, Jennifer offers him a lift to London. That night, Jennifer arrives at the meeting with Lord John Roxton (Michael Rennie), an explorer and hunter. Challenger is introduced by his old rival, Professor Walter Summerlee (Richard Haydn), and astonishes and outrages the audience by announcing that on an isolated plateau at the headwaters of the Amazon, he saw live dinosaurs. When someone in the crowd calls him a liar, Challenger demands that a new expedition be formed, consisting of himself and Summerlee and two independent witnesses. Roxton volunteers and is accepted. Instantly, Jennifer also volunteers, but Challenger rejects her offer contemptuously. No-one else comes forward until a snide remark from Jennifer makes Malone raise his hand. Challenger objects, wanting no reporters present, but when Jennifer’s father offers to fund the expedition if Malone can go, Challenger reluctantly agrees. Without incident, the party reaches a remote trading post on the Amazon where they are met by Gomez (Fernando Lamas), their helicopter pilot, and Costa (Jay Novello), a local who has organised their equipment. To the party’s disbelief, they also find Jennifer waiting for them, along with her brother, David (Ray Stricklyn). Jennifer tells them that she flew in with Gomez and, when Challenger tries to send her away, points out she would have to take the helicopter, costing the expedition valuable time. Roxton raises no objection to Jennifer’s presence, but Malone protests that it will be too dangerous for her. That night, the two men clash over Jennifer. The next day, the party flies to Challenger’s plateau. Camping for the night, they are suddenly roused by a deafening roaring noise from nearby. As they flee, Jennifer is grabbed by the coiled branches of a strange tree and must be cut loose. The party hears the sound of a crash. Returning to their campsite, they find that their helicopter has been demolished by some huge creature. Their radio, too, has been destroyed, and they must face the fact that they are trapped on the plateau with no way of contacting the outside world.

Comments: Bad, bad, bad film! Not good-bad, or funny-bad, just plain awful-bad! When, early in the film, Professor Challenger storms down the steps of his aeroplane, waving his umbrella and shouting, "Fools! Imbeciles! Have you no sense of decency?" it feels as if Claude Rains were speaking directly to producer-director Irwin Allen and his co-writer Charles Bennett, who together have concocted one hundred minutes of undiluted manure.

It is really depressing watching actors like Rains and Michael Rennie in crap like this. But at least Rennie gets billing. Poor old Claude suffers the ultimate indignity of being billed after Jill St John and David Hedison, although thankfully not behind Fernando Lamas, which is something if not very much. In the usual Irwin Allen way, the film is full of stereotypical characters spouting cliched dialogue. The supposed "bad" guys are all much more likeable than the "good" guys (common enough), while the characters that we’re meant to identify with are utterly unbearable.

Into the first category fall Professor Summerlee and Lord John Roxton. I was pleasantly surprised by Richard Haydn – not that he gives a great performance, but he does manage to avoid being annoying (no mean feat, here), and besides, this is the first time I’ve ever seen him playing a character who isn’t a version of his stock upper-lower-middle-class twit routine. Michael Rennie’s Roxton is kind of interesting because he turns out to be the villain, although there is a clear nationalistic (and classist) inference here, in the explicit contrast drawn between the upper-class British cad and the poor-but-honest American working stiff (so – who do you think will get the [extremely rich] girl?).

But any chance of these two actors, or even of Claude Rains, making a permanent mark with their performance is swept away by the tidal wave of stupidity and offensiveness that is the rest of The Lost World. The single biggest problem with this film is Jill St John’s Jennifer Holmes. In perhaps the most familiar of the film’s unimaginative characterisations, she’s the spoilt rich girl, used to having her own way, who thinks she can compete with the men but learns she’s just a weak little woman who needs a big strong man to take care of her. Ms Holmes (to quote my dear friend and colleague, Mr Ken Begg of Jabootu’s Bad Movie Dimension) is one big bundle of Informed Attributes. When she volunteers for the expedition, she announces, "I can ride, fly and shoot better than any man I know!" Roxton later confirms that "she is daring – as brave as a lioness." Possibly. We see none of this, however. Instead, Ms Holmes spends the movie running away, tripping over for no reason, crying out for the men to come rescue her, and screaming a lot.

A word on Ms Holmes’ screaming. You don’t have to be particularly observant to notice that it is actually one scream ("AAAAHHHHH!!!!") dubbed in over and over again. Never mind that, at least twice, her lips aren’t moving, or that once her mouth is firmly shut. Whenever the slightest opportunity arises, there it is again ("AAAAHHHH!!!!"). You have to wonder about the purpose of all this. Did they think she wasn’t coming across as "feminine" enough? Or were they trying to convince the audience that the "dangers" onscreen were actually scary? Whatever the reason, it serves no purpose but to make Ms Holmes even more irritating than she was to start with, something you’d think was hardly possible. Forcing herself upon the expeditionary party, she first reveals a seemingly limitless wardrobe that truly has to be seen to be believed: satin sheath dresses, bell-bottomed pantsuits, skintight pink stretch pants, pink vinyl boots--- Oh, yes, just what the experienced daredevil would wear to the Amazon! Then, in the only true moment of horror in the entire movie, it is revealed that Ms Holmes has brought her miniature poodle along with her – a disclosure that the rest of the party (except Challenger, God bless him) greets with roars of laughter. Dressed up in a jewelled collar and with pink bow ribbons on its ears, this repellent, rat-like excuse for a canine spends most of the film filling in the gaps between "AAAAHHHH!!!!"-s with incessant yapping. This is, apparently, meant to be "cute". Perhaps I lack imagination, but I am unable to conceive of an audience anytime, anywhere, any place that would find this animal anything but nauseating. I’m not cruel by nature, but I sincerely wanted to see it die a slow and painful death. Together, Ms Holmes and her horrid little pet are enough to put even me – me! – firmly on the side of the male chauvinists. (Still, I like to think that when Challenger announces that, "There’ll be no women on my expedition!" what he actually means is, "There’ll be no Jill St John and her revolting yappy little mutt that I really hope meets the same fate as the revolting yappy little mutt in Eaten Alive on my expedition!")

To be fair, though, The Lost World isn’t just insultingly sexist. It’s also insultingly racist. Included in the party is a character even more familiar than Jill St John’s poor-little-rich-girl, Jay Novello’s cowardly yet greedy native. Lured into the expedition by the promise of huge wealth, Costa spends almost as much time screaming and running away from things as Jennifer Holmes does. Whereas the white men react to the various dangers encountered by squaring their jaws (the Americans) or stiffening their upper lips (the Brits), Costa’s unvarying response is to burst into blubbery tears and cry, "No, no! I can’t die! I don’t want to di-i-ie!" Whoever else is going to make it out of this film alive, it isn’t going to be Costa; and anyone who can’t guess his ultimate fate simply doesn’t watch enough movies (you get three guesses, and the first two that aren’t "his greed overcomes his cowardice and he is killed while stuffing his pockets with diamonds instead of running away with the others" don’t count).

The script’s approach to the native characters sinks even lower in the depiction of the local tribe (who are "undoubtedly cannibals"), and in particular in the way the men treat the native girl they capture, who is chased, imprisoned, dragged around, and referred to as a "valuable specimen". (She is also dressed in the least credible "native costume" since Raquel Welch’s fur bikini.) Despite this, obviously overcome by the "natural superiority" of the white men, she falls for Jennifer’s brother, David, and joins the team after rescuing them from her fellow tribesmen. (While updating the 1925 version of this film, Allen and Bennett apparently couldn’t be bothered updating its attitudes.)

Now, there may be some people who think I’ve dwelt far too long upon The Lost World’s human characters; that no-one really watches a film like this for its characterisations or its dialogue; that in the end, we’re all here for one reason: dinosaurs! And so here I must confess that, sadly, one of the reasons for my prolixity was to put off discussing the reptilian stars of this film for as long as possible. But now we come to the crunch: the "effects" in this movie are unimaginably awful. As bad as those in the contemporary Dinosaurus. Not even in the same universe as Willis O’Brien’s in the original version of this story – in fact, I apologise for mentioning that film in the same breath as this one. As in Journey To The Center Of The Earth the year before, The Lost World’s "dinosaurs" are a bunch of lizards and an alligator playing dress-ups.

This kind of stuff might pass muster in a low-budget film, but here you can only imagine that they paid the "stars" so much there was nothing left for the effects crew (which was headed by L.B. Abbott, much as it pains me to mention it). If there is anything stupider than an iguana and a couple of monitor lizards gussied up in frills and horns wandering over miniature sets, or frightening badly superimposed humans ("AAAAHHHH!!!!"), it’s having "experts" refer to them as "brontosaurus" and "tyrannosaurus rex". I mean, who did they think they were kidding?

But the sheer idiocy of all this isn’t the worst of it. Inevitably, there has to be a dinosaur fight. As this scene progresses, it becomes sickeningly clear that it wasn’t faked: they really did toss a young alligator at a monitor and encourage the two to attack each other. The fight is shot in close-up, with lots of nice clear images of teeth sinking into flesh. So where the hell was The Humane Society, or whoever it is that’s supposed to supervise this kind of stuff? Or don’t reptiles matter? For me, this scene lowers the whole film almost to the level of Umberto Lenzi and Ruggero Deodato’s revolting cannibal epics, that along with the faked human dismemberment, invariably added scenes of genuine animal mutilation and slaughter.

Apart from the "dinosaurs", The Lost World also boasts a "giant" spider. In an effect that would have done Bert I. Gordon proud, the arachnid is presented in a shonky piece of enlargement and superimposition, with coloured lights shining upon it to make it "eerie". The native girl gasps and runs past the spider (it makes no move towards her – gee, wonder why?) while David Hedison blasts it with his rifle in a scene that, in a piece of accidental comedy, plays like a revenge-killing for his demise(s) in The Fly two years earlier ("You can call me Al…."). This is probably the funniest moment in the film – the rest of it is just too painful for words. Fleeing the natives, the group comes across an old colleague of Roxton’s who has gone blind (that mysterious movie blindness indicated by the actor rolling his eyes back as far as he can), but who directs them to the one way off the plateau. The team reaches the "lake of fire", discovers "El Dorado", and has one more encounter with a "dinosaur". It is at this point that Costa meets his fate, in a scene beaten for fakeness only by the "consumption of a cartoon" sequence in Reptilicus. The film climaxes with the utter destruction of "George Edward Challenger’s lost world" by the "superior" white people, who seem unmoved by the annihilation of dinosaurs and lost tribe alike, apart from the fact that they won’t be able to prove their story. However, a dinosaur egg swiped by Challenger disgorges a tiny lizard – I’m sorry, I mean a tiny tyrannosaurus rex – which he plans to take back to London in what seems to be a set-up for a sequel that never eventuated. Thank God fasting.

Check out all the details of this movie on the IMDB

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